On my way home from the grocery store today I passed a car in a driveway with a “For Sale” sign in the window. It was a diplomat’s European Spec 1988 BMW 528e with a five-speed transmission. It got me thinking that finding cars for sale on people’s lawn is a lost art. Car buying, much like dating, has been revolutionized in the last two decades by the internet. The car-buying consumer finally has the upper hand at dealerships when it comes to knowledge of car pricing . Now all you have to do is pick the color you want– black, silver, white or blue. However, if you only buy cars from dealerships, you’re missing out on the best part of car buying—going on a journey to find your perfect car. Just like with great dating relationships, behind every car purchase there should be a great story.
I have a talent for finding things—I once pulled my dad’s lost watch out of the ocean—so it comes as no surprise to me that I am very good at finding cars. There’s an art to it. Buying a car is a skill that needs to be nurtured. One way to find your dream car is to search for parked cars that are sporting “For Sale” signs in driveways and parking lots. This old-fashioned way of selling a car has become scarce. When you spot a car we call in the trade a “lawn find,” the seller is typically a car enthusiast who doesn’t want to deal with all the scams that can happen online and also would prefer to keep the car local. When you spot a car that you love, leave a note with your phone number or email on the windshield—I always keep extra pens and paper handy—Thank you, Dad, for that tip. The writing of the note is key, you can’t be too creepy or overbearing, wording should be short and simple. Sometimes you get a call, sometimes you don’t. Just like in dating, you win some and you lose some, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. This is actually my preferred way to purchase a car, but it’s becoming as extinct as a Mazda rotary engine.
Gone are the good old days of reading the local classified ads of the newspaper. These are now totally extinct and have been overtaken by sites like Craigslist and eBay. The classified ads of newspapers had a certain patina to them because they had no pictures and you only had 25 words or so to sell your car. You had to be very skilled at writing your description. Sundays were the best time to check the classified ads because that was the day new ads appeared. Now sellers can post a car to Craigslist for free, with pictures and more space for a description than in a newspaper. That free posting on Craigslist means jalopy cars that might not be worth the price of newsprint will be posted onto the website along side true automotive treasures. With Craigslist it’s definitely a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get—I know you are in awe my Toyota Previa. Lord knows the number of hours I have wasted online searching for my dream car. I have probably earned a doctorate in the Craigslist automotive section. Online shopping for cars is the equivalent of online dating: that dream date looks good in the pictures, but when you finally meet, you have that sinking feeling that you should have spent the night on the couch catching up on Season 1 of “Heroes” on Netflix. The Craigslist auto section is the equivalent of the popular mobile app Tinder—it’s quick, easy and superficial, but you might settle for something you don’t necessarily want, or may be embarrassed to be seen in. I was referring to the car in that last bit.
Just like people cars have history, and it’s important to know the car’s history. Who were the owners? Did they keep service records? What’s the car’s idiosyncrasies? One website that is doing it right is Bring A Trailer, which does the back-story, and only selects the top-notch automobiles to auction.
Just like you still hear the stories of couples meeting the old-fashioned way, through friends, you can still find a great car through a dealership. But if you only shop from a dealership, you could miss out on finding a car that you’ll never forget or ever want to sell. So start searching the streets of your neighborhood for your next car. You might be surprised by what you find, and you might even find a date.
Tell me about your best car buying experience in the comments below.